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MR. IVES' CHRISTMAS by Oscar Hijuelos

MR. IVES' CHRISTMAS

By Oscar Hijuelos

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-06-017131-6
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Pulitzer-winning Hijuelos's fourth sails close to the shoals of sentiment but remains an honest, moving account of a man, his family, and the changing city they live in. Edward Ives was orphaned at two (in 1924), entered a foundling home in Brooklyn, and was adopted by a kindly man named Ives, himself a foundling who now gave his own adoptive son a name and home. From this Dickensian start (Hijuelos gives little nods to Dickens throughout) unfolds a story of belief, loss, hope, and reemergent faith: a seeming recipe for treacle that in Hijuelos's hands somehow stays flavored with a robustness of life. Ives's religious faith, gained from his adoptive father, doesn't deny him a believable depth as his life proceeds: work as an adolescent in his father's print shop; study at the Art Students' League in the late 1940s; a position as a commercial artist in an advertising firm; marriage, family, children. The city he dwells in is as much a character as Ives is himself--and the changes in it as sorrowful as those in his own life. The most appalling of these comes in 1967, when Ives's 17-year-old son Robert--seriously thinking of entering the priesthood--is pointlessly shot down, just before Christmas, on the street, by another teenager. The groundwork for didacticism and melodrama thereby built, Hijuelos manages, by a kind of aesthetic radar, to avoid those pitfalls as he tells Ives's story of excruciating despair, slow redemption, and final faith. Life outranks theory here, and the details of Ives at his job, with his family, as an active member of his ethnically-mixed community- -even reaching out to the murderer of his son--all remain movingly human, not programmatic. Hijuelos shows himself this time to be that vanishing, valuable thing: a writer, even if not uniformly polished, whose passions can make art out of what for others would remain only issues. (Book-of-the-Month selection; author tour)